Report: “What Lessons Can Consumer Publishing teach the Book Industry?”

Posted by Justine Solomons on 12 September 2013, in Event reports, News

It was standing room only at Loft at The Club at the Ivy for our September event focussed on the newspaper and magazine industry.  Byte the Book founder, Justine Solomons chaired a discussion with a panel including: Alex Watson (Director of Product, Tablet and Apps at Dennis Publishing),  Toby Wright (CTO at the Telegraph Media Group) and Matteo Berlucchi (CEO Digital at Northern and Shell) and Justine Southall (Publishing Director at Marie Claire).


Byte the Book September panel from left to right: Justine Southall, Matteo Berlucchi, Toby Wright and Alex Watson.

Justine Solomons opened the discussion by asking whether it would be useful to the book industry to adopt the commercial methods current in Consumer Publishing. Alex Watson felt there could be cross over in certain respects for example in the areas of advertising, discounting and subscriptions and said that in Consumer Publishing 94% of sales are subscription based.  He pointed out that consumers are already conditioned to pay for services and this could be a way forward for sales, rather than relying on the one-off purchase.  Justine then spoke about whether the book could be looked on as ‘a service’, and there was general agreement that this type of approach guaranteed clients being in touch with the seller and receiving information about updates.


  Justine Southall and September sponsors the Publishers Licensing Society

Toby Wright talked about the ways in which we use technology and said it is important to know where content is going. He said 40% of consumer traffic was accounted for by Google searching but it was always useful to have as specific a breakdown as possible. Matteo Berlucchi spoke about the high level of control which Amazon had within the book industry and said this imbalance was an intrinsic problem for other publishers. There then followed a discussion about the problems of Digital Rights Management at the present time and the reasons why piracy was able to flourish in today’s market.  It was generally felt that a new business model was needed which would reduce the need for rigidity.

Justine then introduced the question of advertising and asked Justine Southall if she felt it had a place in book publishing. Justine Southall felt that it did and there was no denigration or lessening of the value of the literary material should it be employed. Advertising, which is the life blood in other spheres, could definitely play a part.  Areas of a book, for example inside the back cover, could be set up as advertising space. Matteo said many readers would not want advertising to be included in a book but Alex thought such a practice would mean books could be given away free and that this fact might make it more acceptable to readers when they realised this. But it was to some extent felt that there was a dichotomy. In the case of the glossy magazine, ads were a part of the product whereas with the book they would always be seen as separate.


 Our brilliant September audience at The Club at the Ivy

The subject of brands came up next and Justine asked if the panel would like to talk about the concept of branding. Toby started the discussion going by stating that if the brand doesn’t serve the content things could be problematic, and Matteo said traditional media was challenged by the brand but pointed out the usefulness of brands in promoting communities, and said the fact they were not medium specific meant they could be used for games, play stations and other outlets. Justine Southall said brands were crucial to the glossy magazine and helped to target and consolidate an audience and enable expansion.  After much discussion on the subject, including questions from the floor, it was conceded that the book business may be a little different in that the readers’ relationship is with the author rather than the publishing company so that branding would not have the same relevance.  On the other hand, in the case of a large and known publisher or where there was a clearly identifiable product, such as poetry, it may work to some extent, and there could be branding of a logo at least, which would give the public greater awareness of a publishing house, and possibly more could be done in this way in the future.


A final shot of our panel with the infamous twitter wall behind

There were a number of further questions raised by the audience and the evening ended in an atmosphere of lively discussion and debate.

Words by Jay Merill, photos by Daniel Solomons.

If you enjoyed this report why not join us again at The Club at The Ivy on 21st October 2013 when Andrew Motion will chair a discussion the future of poetry publishing. 


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